Alcoholism is a family disease. It is said that the age the person starts using is the age they generally stop growing emotionally. I had never realized that all the time my sister was sick, I was getting sick right along with her. That’s why I was in those roles, of my own choosing, and why I’m still in them, and in therapy learning how to get out of them. I’ll keep this short and sweet, since we all have many blogs we want to read.
When I first started this blog many years ago, I told myself I would always be honest no matter how much it might hurt. If I can’t be honest in my blog, where the hell else can I be honest, right? Here goes: intellectually I totally get that alcoholism is a disease. But that knowledge hasn’t traveled the few feet or so down to my heart. I still have wondered sometimes, “Why doesn’t she just stop drinking?” I’ve been to thousands of family meetings with my parents and Carol at the 20 or so treatment centers she’s tried. You’d think it would be cemented in my head.
A couple of months ago I went to one of my favorite Al-Anon meetings. It had been a while before I’d attended. I shared this problem I have with the concept of disease. I was crying. Almost right after everyone at the table had shared, this woman practically stood over me and ticked off these things on her fingers: “The DSM recognizes alcoholism as a disease, Blue Cross recognizes it as a disease,” (and one other thing I can’t remember she said–I was a little in shock) “so you have to accept it as a disease.” There you go.
My sister’s three children, who are grown adults now — the eldest is forty, and the younger two are in their late thirties — like to blame her for the way their lives are now, drawing on countless stories of a “horrific” childhood raised by a sometimes absent practicing alcoholic. This is always heartbreaking for Carol but she has learned to say “Goodbye, I’m hanging up now,” when it gets redundant and too difficult. I’m sure their childhoods were indeed difficult, but at what point does one say, “What’s happening in my life now is up to me. These are my choices. No one else is responsible and no one can change those choices except me.”
It’s easier to blame, though. It hurts less, and pointing that sharp finger at ourselves takes blind courage. I know, because for years I went to Al-Anon meetings missing the point. I talked about the alcoholics in my life: my dad and my sister, and how they had wronged me; how screwed up my life was now because of them. Sound familiar? 😉 I reasoned that since Carol had started drinking when she was 16 and I was an impressionable three, my childhood was essentially taken away from me. I vacillated between the placater/pleaser and the lost child/adjuster in Claudia Black’s family roles For those of you from alcoholic families, which role(s) did you play?
Naturally, I felt tons of victimization in these roles, and I played it to the hilt. Poor me, poor me, I cried at the meetings, and — I love them so much — no one at those meetings ever once stopped me, trusting the process.
It has taken years, and I mean years, for me to get to the place where I can sit down at an Al-Anon meeting and know I’m going to talk about some facet of my life that I need help with. Because that’s what it’s all about. Al-Anon is for me. AA is for the alcoholic.
Not that I still don’t play the blame game every now and then. Who doesn’t? It’s like something that almost rolls off my tongue and I have to consciously stop myself. Oh wait —noooo, what happened was my own choice! 🙂
Acceptance is a difficult concept to deal with, even if we’re not talking about alcoholism. None of us wants to be unacceptable, or excluded from a group, whether we’re small children, adolescents, or older adults. The synonyms for acceptance are many, among them approval and recognition.
I know a young woman who is gay. She has found a woman she loves, is very happy, and engaged to be married. Most people she knows are very happy for her happiness, but not all are as accepting. Some are even judgmental, saying she and her partner would always be welcome in their home, but they would never attend her wedding. This makes no sense to me, and seems more than a little hypocritical. If you accept the fact that someone is gay, you recognize it, you approve of the lifestyle she/he has chosen.
With my sister, it’s different, but somewhat the same. She’s been sober for a while now, and attended several family gatherings as a sober alcoholic. I don’t drink often, mostly at major holidays, like Thanksgiving and Christmas. In fact, my mom laughs at me, because I will see a drink recipe shown on The Chew or something, get all excited about it, buy all the ingredients, bring them home, and then the liquor sits in our cupboards, because I’ve immediately lost interest. :P)
Back to my sister. I never used to drink around her. I thought it was a sign of solidarity if I joined her in not drinking. Recently, I’ve realized it was actually codependency, and I was not allowing her a sense of self-esteem, and achievement all her own. She’s very capable, and strong in her own right. But I’m sure she feels that exclusion, that non-acceptance among non-alcoholics, even though she’s accepted by her recovering alcoholic friends. I still laugh when I remember going with her to an open talk AA meeting at Sacred Heart in downtown Detroit. I was so nervous I wouldn’t even smoke, even though I badly wanted a cigarette. One of her friends finally leaned over to me and said, “So, do you have any vices?”
“And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing, or situation — some fact of my life — unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing, or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment.” (Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 417)